Gratitude and originality in spiritual creativity
yad atra skhalitaṁ kiñcid vidvāṁsaḥ pūrayantu tat
yad atra sauṣṭhavaṁ kiñcid tad guror eva me na hi
yad — that which; atra — here; skhalitaṁ — is faulty; kiñcid — whatever; vidvāṁsaḥ — the learned souls; pūrayantu — may kindly correct; tat — that; yad — that which; atra — here; sauṣṭhavam — is beautifully done; kiñcid — whatever; tad — that; guror — belongs to my guru; eva — certainly; me — mine; na — it is not; hi — certainly
“Whatever errors are present in this commentary, may the learned souls correct it; and whatever good is found here, it is due to my guru, not me.” (Krama Sandarbha introduction, Jiva Goswami)
When authors write a book, they usually include a section for acknowledgments where they give credit to all those who helped them in writing that book. But few authors go to the extent as to give all credit for the good in the book to others. They naturally want credit for what they feel is their creativity, their hard work, their original contribution.
However, in devotional and spiritual circles, especially circles that draw from a venerable lineage of teachers, books often feature acknowledgements such as that expressed by Jiva Goswami here. Are these spiritual authors expressing excessive humility, refusing to take credit where it is due? Or is a deeper truth operational?
In any intellectual or artistic work, no one starts from scratch. We use the language thinkers before us have developed, and we draw extensively from their ideas.
Of course, we may claim credit for having brought those words and ideas together distinctively. However, even for that distinctive integration, we are more a channel than the source. All insightful works rely on inspiration, and inspiration comes from outside of ourselves, giving us in fully developed form ideas that we simply receive and write. The Bhagavad-gita (15.15) indicates that the source of inspiration is the indwelling Supreme Lord. In that sense, we can’t take sole credit for either the points or their integration.
Additionally, in spiritual circles, originality has a sense distinct from its sense in contemporary circles. Nowadays, originality refers to coming up with an insight that no one has come up with till now. In traditional spiritual circles, originality refers to that which is as close to the origin as possible. If we were traveling using a map and wanted to understand the symbols in the map, we would need the second kind of originality, not the first kind. We wouldn’t need to come up with some new meaning for those symbols; we would need to know that meaning intended by the map-maker. When we understand that meaning, we can properly navigate the terrain depicted in the map.
The Bhagavad-gita (16.24) indicates that scripture is a guidebook for helping us make sound decisions. Thus, scripture is like a map for our life-journey. Naturally therefore, when scriptural commentators keep this purpose in mind, they consider their commenting successful if they convey the import given by the previous teachers who had successfully used scripture as a guide for their life-journey. The Gita (04.10) states that many in the past have attained perfection by living in the light of its spiritual knowledge– and it urges us to do the same (04.15).
When we are able to explain a map to someone, helping them find the directions to the desired destination, we don’t feel proud of our creativity – we feel grateful to those who made the map and to those who taught us to read it properly. Similarly, when we are able to explain scriptural knowledge effectively, helping people find the way to enduring spiritual growth, we don’t feel proud of our creativity – we feel grateful: to the universal spiritual master, the Lord, who has given scripture to humanity; and to the exalted lineage of spiritual masters who have made those scriptural directions accessible to each generation for millennia.
And if we make some mistakes in reading the map, we feel grateful when those who are better map-readers than us correct our reading. While explaining a map, our purpose is not to prove that our understanding is right, but to ensure that we gain and share the right understanding. When we share spiritual knowledge in such a mood, we endear ourselves to our Lord, and he guarantees our spiritual elevation and liberation (18.68-69).
Thus, the mood of profound humility amidst devotional creativity is founded in philosophical reality, and it helps us go closer to the ultimate reality, our eternal Lord.